The Giving Garden
The Giving Garden at Coogan Farm
In February 2014, the Nature Center, United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation signed an agreement that promises to bring fresh food to thousands of hungry residents of New London County daily.
When the Nature Center first launched the Campaign to Save Coogan Farm in 2012, a plan was envisioned that would result in the public benefiting from this property in many ways: critical watersheds and habitats would be preserved, the region’s agricultural history would be celebrated, hiking and outdoor recreation would be available to the public free of charge, and quality of life in eastern Connecticut as a whole would be improved. The creation of The Giving Garden was the Nature Center’s first step in realizing that plan.
The Robert G. Youngs Foundation provided the seed money in the form of a grant to the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center to create a garden at the Coogan Farm Nature and Heritage Center that will grow produce for donation to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center, which distributes food to 63 programs that serve 91 feeding sites across New London County.
‘Thank you all again for allowing us this opportunity and to spending the day with Craig Floyd, Farm Manager, Coogan Farm, DPNC. The day was a most enriching experience that we’ll keep with us always. Craig, We are so appreciative from the bottom of our hearts for allowing us the privilege to be a part of this wonderful project and endeavor you live and breathe every day. Your undeniable desire and efforts to feed the hungry is immeasurable. Your knowledge of organic agriculture, the property, its history, the earth and all of its forgiving ways is vast and also an undeniable passion of your heart and soul. For all of this, we Thank You! Sincerely, Clyda DiNicola and the Pfizer Procurement working party of Thursday, 8/4/16’
The four-year agreement creates The Giving Garden, and local horticulturalist Ian Cooke of Mystic was hired to launch the project. In the Summer of 2014, Craig Floyd became manager of Coogan Farm and the Giving Garden.
In 2014, the garden consisted of 1,600 square feet. In 2015, it was expanded to 30,000 square feet. Volunteers garden the plots, and the food grown goes to the United Way. The United Way distributes it via feeding centers and its Mobile Food Pantry.
“We like the idea of keeping the farm in Coogan Farm,” said Maggie Jones, executive director of the Nature Center, which purchased 34 acres of the Coogan Farm on Greenmanville Avenue in 2013 after a major fundraising campaign. “This has been part of the plan all along, and the partnership with the United Way is a great first step. This will also provide lots of programming opportunities for us, and we are excited about that.”
Virginia Mason, president and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, said The Giving Garden will elevate the agency’s food distribution programs to a new level of excellence.
“This is an extremely exciting project,” she said. “The vision of it, the strength of the partnership, and the commitment to providing fresh produce to a population who badly need that nutritional support. The availability of fresh produce will make a measurable difference in the health of the recipients. ”
Mason said the food bank distributes 2.7 million pounds of food annually, and the need increases every month. She said that in the past, the ability to provide fresh vegetables was inconsistent at best.
“Fresh food has become a priority for the Food Center and donations have grown. A consistent source of produce for 6-7 months of the year is a gift to the many in our community who are food insecure.”
The Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation is administered by Scott Bates, Barbara Bates and Lisa Tepper Bates of Stonington. Robert Youngs, who died in 2011, was a relative of Scott Bates. Youngs grew up in New London, worked as a master carpenter for the New London Public Schools, and when he died he left everything in a trust, with the caveat that the money should be used to “benefit the people of the New London area.”
The Giving Garden is the largest project the foundation has undertaken, said Lisa Tepper Bates. “We were approached by the Coogan campaign to support the (acquisition) project, and we thought, what a great project and also, a farm!”
Read more: Volunteer Spotlight: Maryrose Conklin
Read more: The Giving Garden: All Clear!
Read more: The Giving Garden Takes Shape